The classic story of the election of 1896 was that it was a “realigning” election, so if we take this story at face value, it does suggest one path forward for American politics: another major political realignment. We just need some new issue to split one or both parties (like the famous 1896 split of the Democrats over whether currency should be pegged to silver or gold). In theory, this would shake loose old partisan allegiances and make space for a new governing coalition of interests and identities. It’s not without precedent. Up until this point, the major party realignments in American politics have all emerged when new issues cause rifts within parties and shift long-standing voter allegiances (slavery in the 1850s, the Great Depression in the 1930s, the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s). By any indication, then, America is “due” for a major realignment.
Certainly, one can cast about for issues that could conceivably split one or both of the two major parties and cause a massive political realignment. Economics is arguably once again such an issue, given that the Republican Party’s voters are internally split over economic issues, with many of the more populist voters in the party rejecting the party’s established pro-business, pro-free trade agenda in favor of something more redistributionist. But the sticking point here seems to be that whatever latent class solidarity might exist among voters across parties, issues of race and racial identity have become so core to partisan affiliation that any potential cross-party coalition along lines of class seems unlikely.